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Mzwetwo and Tapz on race, rock and rap

The Wireless logo The Wireless 4/05/2017

Two young stunnas.

 
Tapz and Mzwetwo. © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Tapz and Mzwetwo. Tapz and Mzwetwo.

Photo: Alex Behan/RNZ

Mzwètwo and Tapz are part of the new wave of New Zealand hip hop getting international attention.

Ahead of shows in Auckland and Wellington, RNZ’s Alex Behan talks to the Zimbabwean-born rappers about owning their identities, their eclectic musical inspirations and music industry reps telling them what words they can and can’t use.

LISTEN > Mzwètwo and Tapz interviewed for RNZ's Music 101:

Tell me about your evolution Mzwètwo. Why have you decided to go back to what is your actual birth name?

M - My name is muzz-way-too, I say it slow every time. I understand the level I’m at right now - we’re not in the African continent, so shout outs to my caucasian brothers and sisters out there.

Anyways, I felt like it was important for me to evolve back into my real name, because Zu was a name that people gave to me because they couldn’t pronounce my real name.

And so it’s kind of a metaphor for y’know, you get told how you should be, what you should like, how you should dress and I came to a point in to my life where I’m like, “you know what, I like certain things, this is what I believe in, and I love my name”.

It’s like my favourite name - Mzwètwo.

Mmm, it’s a beautiful word. What does it mean, by the way?

M - It means “our home”

Wow.

M - When girls say it, I’m like “man, that name is awesome”.

[Laugher]

Shoutout to mum, who came up with that.

Is it also that when you put yourself out there as a rapper it’s nice to have kind of a character that you’re sticking to as you’re finding your voice? And once you grow up a little bit, maybe mature a little bit, you’re like “Ah, wow, I’m actually confident with who I am. Let’s clean the slate and start over?”

M - People would call me Zu since I landed in New Zealand - we came over as refugees. So from primary school up people would call me Zu. I felt like it was an identity that I took on because people weren’t comfortable with my true identity, with my true name.

If we can get deep about it, it’s like, you can round your edges off to get people to like you, or you can be yourself and the people that are going to love you, are going to love you.

And even with the new music, how I speak is how I sound on record - learning to translate and transpose my emotions, my mind, on to music. This one rap I’ve got, it started off as a poem and it’s like:

I’m an anomaly, so normally things in my life don’t go how they ought to be,

Suicidal thoughts, me and life divorced,

Go our separate ways. Find a different course,

I’m going through hell, but I’m fresh as hell,

At least if I die I’ll be fly,

Looking at my motherseyes, can see she wants to cry,

Sad that her only son grew to be the only one,

Cursed in this thing called life,

Black boy in a white world,

I’m cursed by right,

I learnt about race on a flight,

Landed in Ameri-K-K-K ay,

Where a black boy isn’t welcome to stay,

Police shoot their guns, when they feel afraid,

The colour of my skin, and the colour of my kin ,

Makes a nigga feel like his colour is a sin.

My human experience is getting translated onto the music, and it was a maturing process for me to get to that point. With rap it can be a lot of hyperboles - and yes, that’s part of my personality, I mean, look at what I’m wearing.

But I also feel like there is a flipside to that where there’s intricate parts of my DNA that, when I was younger, as Loui the ZU, I wasn’t able to understand how to transpose that.

But now, as I’m coming in to who I am, I’m accepting everything I am; I’m accepting that sometimes I go through depression; I’m accepting that I am black; I’m accepting that some girls love me; I’m accepting that every time I go into a store police look at me in a certain way; I’m accepting that I get asked certain things by cops that my white friends don’t get asked; I’m accepting that when I travel there’s certain precautions I have to take or I have to be careful because I’m going to be profiled in a certain way.

That whole thing that Mzwètwo’s become, I’m able to take that and put it on the music.

Just to clarify, Mzwètwo’s wearing a leather jacket. It looks like a… some kind of-

M - It’s a silk scarf.

A silk-kerchief around the neck and just generally looks pretty fly.

T - Amen.

So, Is this your experience as a refugee that grew up in Auckland, New Zealand - that you get treated differently because of the colour of your skin?

M - Man, It’s crazy, I do. Even when I was doing Loui the ZU stuff, I was like the only black rapper, or one of the very few in the industry.

And it’s crazy. I would be talking to an A&R and they would be talking to me about using the word “nigga” and saying how New Zealanders don’t use the word nigga, but me and all my friend - we’re all refugees - our everyday conversation would be “that’s my nigga, that’s my homie”, whatever. We talk like that.

And so now, obviously, there are more black artists: Tapz, Raiza Biza, KVKA, a lot more. And so people are starting to understand that more at one level.

But of course I experienced racism when I was growing up - in primary school it was really heavy, and then in high school … but it’s funny, it’s ironic - when I was younger being black wasn’t cool, but now black culture is pop culture.

Why I started rapping was: back in the day, when I was watching C4 - like Nelly on TV, Lil Wayne - I’d be like ‘man, these guys are black’, and they’re cool, and they’re embracing their blackness. That’s why I just really gravitated towards hip hop.

But my music sounds the way it does because my immediate surroundings was white modern culture - rock n roll. I used to listen to System of a Down, listen to Green Day, Linkin Park, Slipknot, y’know. So, rock n roll has always been in the context of my musical makeup.

But when I started to see black people on TV I started to connect with it. First on a visual level, and then, as I matured and started to understand a deeper context to hip hop, and understanding lyrics and stuff like that.

I didn’t hear any guitars in it, but 'Young Stunna' is a heavy song - it pulls no punches.

M - There is guitar work in there - I do a reference of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it’. The more times you listen to that song, there’s a lot of layers and hopefully you can catch more and more.

That’s a good song man, that’s the way it should be.

M - Speaking of ‘Young Stunna’, in that song I really reference punk music. I love punk culture because, to me, in the context of rock'n'roll, it’s the culture that has the most similarities to hip hop. It’s straight to the point, no bullshit, and you can like it, or you can not. And I feel like that’s the attractive power of hip hop.

And so like, the way that Stunna starts, “Doon! Doon!” - really abrasive. I just took that punk energy and in the key change in the bridge my vocal reference there was Joe Cocker, or Jimi Hendrix, even a little bit of Bob Dylan.

Like, I love that style where the vocalist - it’s so ugly but it just communicates this emotion. It’s so emotive. I love how Bob Dylan would use singing more like rapping; he would curve the melodies and cut the melodies short where a classical singer would extend the melodies.

And so, Tapz, let’s talk about your evolution from Young Tapz to Tapz. When did that happen? Why did that happen?

T - I think Mzwètwo touched perfectly on the whole “didn’t want to be boxed in” thing. When I grew up, I grew up listening to Lionel Richie, Zimbabwean music - which consists of a lot of folk guitars and a rhythmic grooves - the grooves we’d hear in dancehall these days.

I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. When I moved to New Zealand I would, as Mzwètwo said, listen to rock - punk rock.

And that’s the type of music I want to make - with a touch of hip hop, because hip hop was the first genre that I’ve felt embraced our people.

 

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